The American theatrical box office seems to be in “all or nothing” territory at the moment, as this past weekend included both an impressive debut from Halloween Kills that broke several pandemic-era box office records, and an extremely weak bomb from Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel. The former continued to illustrate the reason why Hollywood tentpoles are almost entirely based around valuable IP, while the latter pointed to the relative weakness of both original concepts and the fact that the American box office is increasingly driven by younger filmgoers, with older audience members still staying home.
To start off with Halloween Kills, the David Gordon Green slasher sequel made $50.4 million in its three-day opening weekend, good for the record of the highest grossing horror film of the pandemic era, and the highest R-rated opening of the pandemic era. The later is particularly impressive, as this $50.4 gross completely dwarfed the previous mark of $26.2 million set by James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. Halloween Kills, despite negative reviews from the likes of Paste and many others, benefitted heavily from younger audiences (almost 50% of viewers were under 24 years old) and the established IP of Michael Myers … a continuity so confusing at this point that we made a guide to keep the five Halloween timelines distinct. This is especially impressive considering that Halloween Kills also hit Peacock streaming on Friday, indicating that for many consumers it was a priority to see the film in a theater.
On the extreme other end of the spectrum, though, you have Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer. That film reviewed well, but bombed theatrically, opening to by far the worst results of Scott’s long career with just $4.8 million. It highlights the dangers of trying to entice older audiences into movie theaters right now—more than 80% of all the ticket buyers for The Last Duel were over 25 years old, but very few of them clearly turned out. This market has been increasingly difficult to court, although it is still possible, as demonstrated by No Time to Die—but once again, a Bond movie is the ultimate in “well-established IP.”
It all points to a continuation of Hollywood’s current trends—more sequels, more familiar IP, less risk taking. Until audiences show up in theaters to support new stories, we can hardly expect them to move to the forefront.